Ceramic tile is a building material made from clay that has been molded into tiles and fired to create a hard surface. Glazed ceramic tiles are commonly used for floors, walls, countertops, and showers. A specialty form of ceramic tile, porcelain, is made from finer clays fired under higher temperatures and is a harder and more durable form of tile. Porcelains are an increasingly popular form of tile in residential use.
Properly installed, ceramic tile can last for many decades, which can be both a virtue and a drawback. Ceramic tile lasts so long that many a homeowner has grown weary of its color and style. But it might surprise you to know that ceramic tile can be transformed by painting it. You can renovate an entire kitchen or countertop, for example, by simply painting tile that has become old, dingy, or outdated.
Painting tile requires some special preparation steps, though. The shiny surfaces on glazed ceramic tiles do not bond well to paint, so it is important to sand and scuff the surfaces to provide "tooth" for the paint to stick to. And there are a number of important cautions and limitations to keep in mind before you decide to paint your ceramic tile.
Picking the Right Paint
Any color of paint can be used on ceramic tile, and colors can be custom-matched to other painted surfaces or other decorative elements in the room. However, since the paint can eventually wear or scratch off, it's best to limit your efforts to ceramic tile on vertical surfaces (walls and backsplashes) or on countertops. You'll also want to select a top-quality, 100 percent acrylic semi-gloss primer and paint. Painting ceramic tile will require several days of careful effort, and the better the materials you use, the longer the paint job will last.
When painting ceramic tile, the primer and paint should be thinned slightly, and you should plan to apply several thin layers of paint, rather than one thick layer. Use brushes to cut in the edges and roll the surface with a lint-free low-nap roller.
For a more realistic look, use a small artist's brush to paint the grout lines in a contrasting color after the final field coat has dried thoroughly. This will require a lot of patience, but the results will be amazing. You can use a straightedge to guide your brush while painting the grout lines.
Before You Begin
Not all ceramic tile surfaces are good candidates for successful painting. For example, it's important not to paint a ceramic tile floor unless the main area of traffic will be covered by a rug. Foot traffic and simple friction will quickly wear off paint from ceramic tile floor surfaces.
Ceramic tile surfaces in a shower or near a bathtub are also bad candidates for painting, because the constant moisture may cause the paint to peel off fairly quickly.
Some additional things to keep in mind before painting ceramic tile:
- To preserve the painted finish on a tile countertop, you will always need to use a cutting board. Knife blades will easily score and scratch the paint layer on ceramic tile.
- Never place hot pans on a painted ceramic tile counter. The heat can cause the painted finish to bubble and peel.
- The surface of your painted ceramic tile will be only as good as the base you paint over. If the grout is broken or cracked, repair it at least 48 hours ahead of painting day. If the tile is cracked or gouged, replace them or fill in the imperfections.
- It may take as long as two weeks for the paint to thoroughly dry and cure. You must be patient so that the surface will last.
- Preparation and careful execution is crucial to a successful job. Take the time to clean, sand, dust, dry, and paint very carefully.
Equipment / Tools
- Heavy-duty rubber gloves
- 220-grit sandpaper (electric sander optional)
- Paintbrush (to cut in around edges)
- Paint roller with high-quality, lint-free, short-nap roller cover
- Paint roller tray
- An artist's brush (to paint the grout lines)
- Top-quality tinted acrylic paint primer
- Top-quality acrylic semi-gloss interior paint
- Top-quality urethane
- Trisodium phosphate (TSP) or another heavy-duty cleaner
- Denatured alcohol
- Painter's tape
Prepare the Area
Use drop cloths to cover areas near the surfaces you will be painting. Use painter’s tape to mask off the area and protect the surrounding walls.
Repair the Surface
Repair any cracks or imperfections in the grout or tile. This may involve patching areas of broken or cracked grout, or even removing and replacing all the grout. Broken tiles should be replaced. Allow the repairs to dry for at least 48 hours before proceeding.
Sand the Tile
Using 220-grit sandpaper, sand the surfaces of the ceramic tile to break the gloss, giving the surfaces "tooth" that will allow the new coat of paint to stick. Take care to avoid pressing too hard when sanding to avoid deep scratches to the tile.
Wipe off all dry sanding dust and clean up the surrounding area.
Clean the Tile
Even if it looks clean, clean the tile thoroughly with a heavy-duty solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP). Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of TSP with a gallon of water and mix well. Use a sponge to apply the solution to the area you’ll be painting, starting at the bottom and working your way up. Let the solution sit on the tile surface for one to two minutes to remove the build-up of soil, soap scum, or hard water deposits. Use a cleaning pad to scrub every area of the tile that you will paint.
TSP can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. Limit exposure by wearing appropriate eye, skin, and breathing protection and clean all residue from the surface thoroughly.
Rinse the surface several times to remove all residue of the TSP solution.
Allow the tile to dry completely, then wipe with denatured alcohol to remove any dirt or residue that remains.
Prime the Surface
The primer coat should be slightly thinned so that it forms a smooth coat without bumps or thick spots.
- Begin with the edging work, using a paintbrush to cut in the primer coat to the edges of the area, including around baseboards, cabinets, walls, ceilings, and appliances.
- Carefully use a short-nap roller to apply one thin coat of primer across the surface, taking care not to push too hard on the roller. Roll the paint roller in all directions to avoid any edge marks and to keep the surface smooth.
- Let the first primer coat dry thoroughly for several hours.
- When the first primer coat is completely dry, cut in around the edges with a paintbrush and roll on a second thin primer coat.
- Let this second coat of primer dry overnight. If there are any noticeable paint lines on the surface the following day, lightly sand to smooth the area, then wipe off all the dust.
As you did with the primer, slightly thin the paint, if necessary, so it can be applied in thin, smooth coats.
- Cut the edges of the first coat of paint, using a paintbrush.
- Apply a thin coat of finish paint with the roller, and let it dry completely.
- When the field coat is dry, repeat the preceding steps with a second coat of paint, first cutting in with a brush, then painting the field with a roller.
- When the second coat is completely dry, inspect the surface. If necessary, a third coat of paint can be applied.
- If desired, paint the grout lines with a contrasting paint color, using an artist's paintbrush. Let the paint dry completely.
- Once all paint is completely dry, seal the newly painted surface by applying a coat of top-quality urethane finish.
- Do not touch or use the surface for two full weeks to allow the paint and top coat to fully cure and harden.
Trisodium Phosphate. National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Library of Medicine.